Thin-Film Solar Panels: Definition, Types, & Facts

If you are looking for a lower cost solar panel, thin film solar panels are specially designed for you.

Thin film is the future of the solar industry. They are very economical, require less material, contain no toxic components, generate less waste and are very easy to manufacture.

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about thin-film solar cells, including:

What types of thin film solar cells are there?

How are they made?

How do you look?

How effective are they?

How do they react to heat?

How long do they last

how expensive are they

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the different types of thin film solar panels.

A. Types of thin film solar cells

What distinguishes thin film solar cells from monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cells is that thin film solar cells can be made of different materials.

There are 3 types of thin film solar cells:

Thin film of amorphous silicon (a-Si).

This type of thin film is made from amorphous silicon (a-Si), a type of non-crystalline silicon, which makes them much easier to manufacture than mono or polycrystalline solar cells.

Cadmium-Tellurire (CdTe)-Dünnfilm

It is the second most used type of solar cell in the world after crystalline cells.

Unlike a-Si solar cells, this type is made of a special chemical compound called cadmium telluride, which is very efficient at capturing sunlight and converting it into energy.

However, CdTe solar cells have some disadvantages such as:

Rarity: Tellurium is very rare to find, making mass production difficult

Toxicity: Cadmium is one of the most toxic elements on earth. The handling of this toxic component therefore requires special precautions.

Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS)

Finally, the last type of thin film cells are CIGS solar modules.

These cells are made by stacking layers of copper, indium, gallium and selenide to create a powerful semiconductor that can efficiently convert sunlight into energy.

B. How are thin-film solar cells made?

Thin-film solar cells are by far the easiest and fastest type of solar panel to manufacture.

Each thin film solar module consists of 3 main parts:

1. Photovoltaic material: It is the main semiconductor material responsible for converting sunlight into energy, such as CdTe, a-Si or CGIS.

2. Conductive foil: A layer of conductive material such as aluminum is needed to prevent current leakage and improve conductivity

3. Protective layer: In order to extend the life of the solar panel, a thin layer of high quality glass or plastic is applied to the system to improve its durability and protect it from the weather.

It doesn’t matter what type of thin film solar cell you make because they are all made the same way.

All you have to do is sandwich the main PV material (a-Si, CdTe or CGIS) between a layer of conductive material and a layer of glass or plastic and you’re done! You are ready to generate electricity.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

C. What do thin-film solar modules look like?

You can easily recognize this type of solar cells by their thin appearance – they’re not called “thin films” for nothing.

These panels are so thin that each layer is only 1 micron (one millionth of a meter) thick, which is thinner than a human hair.

Don’t get me wrong, the solar panel is not 1 micron thick, every solar system consists of several layers of thin film.

And although thin-film solar panels are about 350 times thinner than monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels, the entire thin-film panel can be as thick as silicon-based panels.

Plus, being thin isn’t her only unique trait. They are more flexible and lighter than other types, making them perfect for use in portable devices.

Regarding color, PV thin film can be black or blue depending on the PV material it is made of.

D. How efficient are thin film solar cells?

Thin-film solar modules are less efficient and have lower power capacities than monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cell types.

Thin-film system efficiencies vary depending on the type of PV material used in the cells, but in general they typically have efficiencies between 7% and up to 18%.

It is important to mention that while thin film cells have lower efficiency than crystalline cells, thin film cells have higher theoretical efficiency than silicon.

For this reason, many expect thin film cells to be even more efficient than silicon in the future.

E. How do they react to high temperatures?

Thin-film solar modules have a better temperature coefficient than silicon-based modules.

Because of this, they are less affected by high temperatures and only lose a small part of their performance when it gets too hot.

For this reason it is recommended to use thin film cells in deserts where there is plenty of sun and space.

In addition, they are protected by layers of high quality glass that are highly resistant to humidity, which makes them ideal for use in tropical climates where it is not only hot but also humid.

F. How long do they last?

Of the 3 types of solar panels, thin film cells have the shortest lifespan of 10 to 20 years.

Although thin film modules have a short lifetime, they have the fastest recovery time.

This means the system saves you a lot of money in electricity which it pays back on its cost within 8 years.

G. How much do they cost?

Thin-film photovoltaic cells are by far the cheapest type of solar panel.

Indeed, they require less materials, generate less waste and are much easier to manufacture.

Additionally, thin-film modules are easier to install than mono or polycrystalline cells due to their light weight and flexibility, which reduces installation costs and makes them even cheaper than they are in reality.


Thin-film solar modules are the hope of the solar industry.

Due to their cost, ease of manufacture, lightness, flexibility and variety of applications.

And according to Solar Energy Hackers, thin-film technology is expected to surpass all silicon-based solar panels within a few years.

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